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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT | J.A. Adande

In Familiar Surroundings, Bibby Has Fighting Chance

March 19, 2001|J.A. Adande | J.A. Adande can be reached at his e-mail address: ja.adande@latimes.com

NEW YORK — There were a handful of NCAA tournament sites where the selection committee could have sent USC that would have retraced the steps of Trojan Coach Henry Bibby's NBA career.

There was New Orleans, where Bibby played with the Jazz. There was San Diego, where Bibby ended his playing days with the Clippers. As it turned out the Trojans went to Long Island, just an expressway and a tunnel away from where Bibby started his career with the New York Knicks in 1972.

But the only way for Bibby to get to Philadelphia was to win two tournament games, something the Trojans had not done since 1954. Mission accomplished. Now the reward for his greatest coaching accomplishment is a return to place that provided the best memories from his playing days.

Bibby played for the 76ers from 1976 to 1980. He played in the NBA finals his first and last seasons in Philadelphia.

"It's my old home," Bibby said. "It's where I really played professional basketball. I played four years there and I played as a starter.

"I look forward to getting back to Philadelphia . . . the home of Brotherly Love."

As long as we're going the cliche route, it's also the home of Rocky. That might be a helpful reminder because the Trojans will be the biggest underdogs in a power-packed East Regional that features Duke, UCLA and Kentucky.

"We have to go in and not be in awe, which we haven't been, and go in there and play," Bibby said.

The Trojans showed no fear against the champions of the Big East Conference when they beat Boston College in the second round Saturday. Now they're thrown into the mix with three schools that have won this tournament a total of 20 times--11 by UCLA, two by Duke and seven by Kentucky, USC's opponent in the regional semifinal Thursday.

Bibby likes to be in such elite company. Normally, USC is brought up in discussions of schools with football-rich traditions such as Notre Dame and Alabama. Mentioning USC in connection with some of the most respected college basketball programs of the past and present sounds nice to Bibby.

"I think it gives us a ton of exposure," Bibby said. "It gives us a ton of credibility from the coaching standpoint, and it should get us in the homes of some of the top recruits because they know we have a good program going on.

"You're on TV nationally a couple of times in one week, you're going to be on TV again next week. Now you're the talk of the town around college basketball, which is really important for us."

It's a great accomplishment for the senior class of Jarvis Turner, Brian Scalabrine and Jeff Trepagnier.

Turner, a fifth-year senior, received a medical redshirt last season after injuries limited him to seven games. He is the only member of the team who was around for USC's last trip to the NCAA tournament in 1997.

That group, he said, was merely happy to be in the tournament.

"They really didn't expect to win it," Turner said. "But we're going in with the mentality that we can really make a run and we can really do some damage in the tournament. The team's really confident right now. It's a different mind-set and mentality right now that I haven't seen in the last three, four years here at SC. That's a really good feeling. Guys have confidence in themselves and their teammates."

Scalabrine expressed it when he said: "We're not done yet."

Bibby sounds just as confident.

"If we can get two, three, four players to play, we can play with any team in the country," he said.

"I think we do a pretty good job of looking at the film and seeing how we can play people. I think that's a pretty good part of what we do, preparing our kids to go in the game. That's what we do and I think we do it pretty well."

The Trojans still have room for improvement. From Scalabrine, for instance. They stomped Oklahoma State in the opening round, even though he shot four for 11. He was aggressive in the Boston College game, but foul trouble limited him to 26 minutes.

If Scalabrine can match his season average of 15 points, if Sam Clancy can post another double-double, as he did in his first two games of the tournament, the Trojans can be in business.

Of course, they can expect a long evening of full-court pressure after Boston College exposed their struggles against the press. But this Kentucky unit doesn't do that as well as Wildcat teams of the past.

The X-factor is Kentucky's Tayshaun Prince, who will be the best player on the court. Can the Trojans stop him? Nobody has lately.

The Trojans are playing with house money now. They're the only one of the four programs that can view a trip to the Sweet 16 as major progress. The standards are higher for the other schools, meaning they have more pressure.

USC has already moved ahead, even if it means Bibby's going back to the same old place.

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